SOUTHINGTON - Waves of determination crashed over Chalker's gymnasium on Thursday night between the Wildcats and the Bristol Panthers. It was that resolve that led to the Wildcats rallying in the second half for the 63-59 victory.
Chalker started off strong, gaining a six-point lead with 3:38 left in the first, but they would only score two more points in that quarter.
Bristol then took control, earning 11 points in just about 3 minutes to acquire the 12-9 lead by the end of the first. Come the second quarter, the Wildcats did not score until the 4:01 mark. During that time period, the Panthers scored 16 unanswered points - 25 total for the quarter - and finished up the half winning 37-23.
Even after the big quarter, the Wildcats rallied back to win the second half by an 18-point margin - and win the game.
"We came out hot," Chalker coach Matthew Yoder said. "It was went on a roll. We couldn't stop them. They wanted it more than we did. They were killing us on offensive rebounds. They were getting the loose balls. That was part of the halftime speech about preaching defense. They wanted it more that second quarter than us. That is why they scored 25 points. They just outright wanted it more than us."
Yoder illuminated with pride when discussing his team's defensive production.
"They came out and played defense," Yoder said. "We gave up 25 points in the second quarter. You'll never win a basketball game letting that happen. A good girls team averages 15 points a quarter. When you give up 25 you are guaranteed to lose. I emphasized defense. You can't focus on offense when you can't stop anybody. We came out in the second half and we stopped them. They scored 22 points in the second half after scoring 25 in one quarter. That's the difference in the game. We stepped up our defense and intensity. Our full-court press worked."
A major part of the Wildcats comeback was due to senior Rachel Wilson. She had 12 of her 29 points in the third quarter, converting most from Panther turnovers. She connected on nine field goals and went 9 of 11 from the line and had seven steals. Shelby Cameron also offered up six of her 16 points in the third to help thrust the Wildcats to the win.
"Yoder really emphasized defense and we knew that we had to play really good defense coming out or we knew that we weren't going to win," Wilson said. "When defense starts rolling then points start rolling."
The Panthers started off promising, having a 14-point lead going into the second half, but they just could not handle the pressure that the Wildcats forced.
"We had 15 turnovers (in the second half) and not setting up the defense or the offense," Bristol coach Lisa Gabrielson said. "The press break is not a fast break every time. They tried to make it a fast break over and over and over again. No matter what we said in the timeout, no matter what we said at halftime. Nothing. Absolutely did not apply it."
By the end of the game, two Bristol players fouled out. Laurin Elza picked up her third and fourth fouls in back-to-back possessions in the beginning of the third quarter. But even with the foul trouble, Gabrielson was just not thrilled with the effort her team showed.
"We were up by 16 at one point, and 14 at the half," Gabrielson said. "We came out, Southington set up a different kind of press. Our varsity players would not execute the press break that we were telling them to do. We called a time out. We called them over to the sideline. We substituted for them and brought them over to the bench and told them what they needed to do and how they got themselves in trouble and turned it over. It's simple as that. We had 15 turnovers, that's what killed us. We dominated on the boards probably most of the whole game, definitely in the first half."
Lindsey Elza drained eight field goals, five 3-pointers, and went 1 of 2 from the line for 22 points. Kylie Stoneman followed, earning a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"We collapsed a little bit when Stoneman got the ball in the post," Yoder said. "You have to honor that from her. She is a great player. You have to collapse on her. That's part of our defensive philosophy is to collapse on the post. We try to go quick and athletic not big and slow. We try to make them get rid of it or put up a bad shot."